In another unsurprising feat by the Republican-led Congress, "lawmakers moved to dismantle landmark internet privacy protections for individuals". It's the first move against telecommunication, Internet, and technology regulations that were established during the Obama administration.
The move means a company like Verizon or Comcast can continue tracking and sharing people’s browsing and app activity without asking their permission. An individual’s data collected by these companies also does not need to be secured with “reasonable measures” against hackers. The privacy rules, which had sought to address these issues, were scheduled to go into effect at the end of this year.
Thursday’s vote begins a repeal of those regulations. Next week, the House is expected to mirror the Senate’s action through the same Congressional Review Act procedure that allows Congress to overturn new agency rules. The House is expected to pass the resolution, which would then move to President Trump to sign.
This move clearly comes as an alarm for anyone who gives a shit about their privacy online, specifically around the behaviors of visiting websites, sharing files, updating your status, etc. And it equally came as a slap to the face to consumer advocates and "other" partisan lawmakers. Why? Because this could mean, if it's set into motion as law (and why wouldn't it?), broadband providers like Comcast would soon have the broadest view into the online habits of Americans. Without previous rules in place, these mostly technical monopoly companies would more easily be able to collect data on their customers and sell varying levels of personal/sensitive information to advertisers, health care companies, financial institutes, and other bidders. And they'd be able to do this without asking permission.
For your own sanity, I'm in the midst of drafting a guide on using a VPN (virtual private network), which is really the only practical way to safeguard against this kind of abuse. VPNs and TOR-like browsing networks allow you to visit sites and skirt surveillance and subsequent data-selling from providers by masking DNS (domain name server) queries.
As redditor ijustdobooks notes, "Even if one sticks to purely HTTPS sites, without a VPN or TOR-alike, the ISP [like Comcast] will at least know what site they visit and when. Even just that info is of great value to advertisers." Trust me, it is. Upstream/downstream traffic (which site do you visit, which site afterwards/before?) is immensley helpful in advertising, and up to this point, advertisers have typically had to rely on opt-in panel solutions like Comscore, whereby a few million people willingly allow the tracking of their online behaviors as a sample set against which to weigh larger trends. Without the previous privacy provisions, the entire US population becomes inadvertent members of an ubiquitous study by marketers and advertisers (and healthcare companies and financial institutes and, let's not forget, the government), and negates the need for a sample set entirely.